How to Advocate for Local Transit in Your Community
Interested in how to generate momentum to improve transit in Ottawa?
Christof Spieler, an American transit advocate who is the author of "Trains, Buses, People: An Opinionated Atlas", has organized a free webinar involving a panel of transit advocates who will discuss how to advocate for better transit in your local region.
Just click here to register.
Wed, Apr 24, 2019 1:30 PM - 2:30 PM EDT
Here’s the blurb from the website:
Advocating for better transportation in your city can feel like a losing battle. How do you get to a planning meeting? Who do you direct your concerns to? What changes can you even effect? Christof Spieler, author of "Trains, Buses, People: An Opinionated Atlas", has been in your shoes. Christof, PE, LEED AP, is now the Vice President and Director of Planning at Huitt-Zollars and a Senior Lecturer at Rice University. Earlier in his life, he was doing citizen advocacy to change his local metro system in Houston.
Christof has brought together a panel of local transit advocacy leaders that are doing effective, on the ground work in their neighborhoods. They are using data and best practices to measure their outputs and they're looking to share the secrets of their successes with you.
- Fred Neal Jr., Commissioner of the Regional Transit Authority of New Orleans and Sr. Planner at Villavaso & Associates, LLC
- Laura Wiens, Director of Pittsburghers for Public Transit
- Christof Spieler, PE, LEED AP, is now the Vice President & Director of Planning at Huitt-Zollars + Senior Lecturer at Rice University
Conversation moderated by David Bragdon, Executive Director of TransitCenter.
Environment Committee meeting – Tuesday, April 16th at 9:30 (Champlain room)
Councillors will discuss whether to declare a ‘climate emergency’ and if so, what to do about it. Several members of the Planning Committee for Ottawa Transit Riders will be there along with allies such as Ecology Ottawa.
Come and lend us support.
And by the way, the Transit Commission meeting scheduled for April 17th has been cancelled.
Accessibility and inclusion at our founding meeting
The Ottawa Transit Riders is fighting for improved accessibility and mobility for everyone in Ottawa and plans to ‘walk the talk’ at our events.
At our founding meeting, there will be an option for people who are not able to attend to cast a vote by proxy as long as you indicate your intentions in advance. A person casting a vote for someone else may cast only ONE proxy vote and must have written permission from the person who is absent.
At least one seat on the Board of Directors is reserved for a person who uses ParaTranspo services. So we are asking people to spread the word – it would be great to have a number of candidates for the board who have experience with ParaTranspo.
Advance access to material
We can provide written material in advance for those who need it – email us to be put on a list.
Let us know if you need any accommodations in order to participate – both at the founding meeting and in general.
Email us for details: Ottawa Transit Riders
Transit success story - Kingston
Another city that seems to be figuring out transit is Kingston, Ontario … transit ridership increased 72% between 2011 and 2017 to a record 6.1 million passenger trips!
Considering that many city politicians in Canada despair at the challenge of providing high quality transit, Kingston’s success has generated significant attention.
A few years ago, Kingston announced a goal to surpass 6 million passenger trips by 2021. They hit that mark in 2017 — four years ahead of schedule. (In 2013, passengers took 3.4 million trips on Kingston Transit; in 2017, they took 6.2 million.)
Did the reforms cost them a lot of money?
Well no, Kingston Transit’s operating budget increased modestly, from $10.2 million in 2013 to $15.7 million for 2017.
This is an important bit of data – in our advocacy work, we’ve often been told that the City simply can’t afford to spend more money on transit. While I’m willing to fight that battle (because I think transit is worth spending money on), I’d also argue that many of Ottawa’s problems stem from poor decision-making, not necessarily lack of revenue.
Thus, a re-thinking of priorities and a review of decision-making at OC Transpo could demonstrate huge improvements.
Some more data from Kingston: The number of people getting to work by bus in Kingston increased by more than 33 per cent between 2011 and 2016.
Kingston is a model for others to consider
Barriers to accessibility are all around us
On Saturday, we held a meeting at the University of Ottawa to discuss transit issues. Frustratingly, the so-called ‘accessible’ room we booked was actually not all that accessible. In order to get to the boardroom, people have to walk down a set of stairs OR take the mini elevator.
You need keys to get the elevator working and we didn’t have keys.
Question number one for me is why does the elevator need keys? ‘Regular’ elevators don’t require keys.
Question number two is why weren’t we told in advance? Why isn’t there a number on the elevator that we could call to summon an employee with keys?
Question number three is why is this room available to be booked without a warning about the barrier?
Ottawa Transit Riders is focused on transit issues, but accessibility (all over the city) is also one of our concerns. We wrote to the University’s Centre for Students with Disabilities to propose some alternatives.
We’ll let you know how they respond.
Reliability of transit apps
How do you know when to catch your bus? Do you rely on printed paper schedules? Do you use Bus Buddy or another app? Do you text 560-1000 when you get to the stop?
For a transit system to work, people have to have reliable up-to-date information about the buses.
Here’s a common scenario. If I want to go downtown, I have three options, but I have to decide when I leave my house which option is best – so I use a bus tracking app. When the bus that is supposed to show up fails to arrive, I’m left angry and frustrated. It’s too late to walk to a different bus stop to take a different bus and I’m left wondering how to prevent this from happening again.
Ottawa Transit Riders will push OC Transpo to provide more accurate GPS-assisted minute-by-minute information on where your bus is so that riders can make informed choices.
Here’s a Capital Current article with one of the co-founders of Ottawa Transit Riders talking about the new travel app on OC Transpo’s website: Ottawa transit users concerned about reliability of OC Transpo’s new travel app
It’s the 21st Century – don’t you think access to such information should be easier?
Save the date! Saturday, April 27th 2:30PM
The Ottawa Transit Riders is hosting its founding meeting and launch party on April 27th at Jean Pigott Hall (City Hall).
We will be sending out formal invitations to those on our mailing list, but we encourage everyone with an interest in transit to join us. We will be voting on a mandate, membership, and decision-making rules. And then we will elect the first Board of Directors.
Come and meet the candidates.
Come and discuss your priorities, suggestions, ideas …
There might be cake.
Click on the button for upcoming activities to RSVP
How to make transit better
There are experts all over the world debating and discussing what makes a transit system work.
Here’s an infographic on tips to make travelling by transit quick:
If you haven’t read it already, check out Montreal-based Taras Grescoe’s amazing book Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile which describes and compares different systems around the world.
I totally get it if it makes you want to book a trip to Copenhagen.
Another book on transit (that I have not yet read) is Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives by Jarrett Walker.
Read, learn, get inspired!
What is an Equity and Inclusion Lens?
According to the city of Ottawa’s own promotional material, the equity and inclusion lens is like a pair of glasses that helps policy makers ‘see’ issues from other people’s perspectives.
The best example I can give is to encourage people to see the world through the eyes of a person with a mobility disability. Want to go to your favourite café? I’ll bet you never noticed that you have to step up to get in. Where are the bathrooms? Down a narrow hallway? Up stairs? Once inside, can a person sitting in a wheelchair reach the soap?
As able-bodied people, it’s easy to be oblivious to barriers.
At the Transit Commission meeting on February 20th, I heard John Manconi claim that OC Transpo had applied this ‘equity and inclusion lens’ to their decisions on route changes.
I was skeptical so I asked for documentation and received the following paragraphs:
Service Planning reviews proposed service changes through the City’s Equity and Inclusion Lens. We look at each of the groups identified by the Lens and would confirm that each group has been considered in the final recommendation of the service change. This was an approved recommendation by Transit Commission back in July 2013. Our approach has been to review how any of the identified groups in the Lens have been impacted by using spatial data – are there significant pockets of groups along a route that have been impacted by a proposed change.
While there is not a spatial identification of women across the City, women are a significant part of other equity groups for which we do have spatial data. For example, we do have spatial data for seniors, Aboriginal, racialized groups, recently immigrated, people with disabilities and low-income groups. Transit improvements affecting each of these equity groups also would represent gains for women.
Besides the frustrating bureaucratic language, it’s obvious that OC Transpo failed to understand the purpose of the equity and inclusion lens.
Here’s what they should have done.
Step one, identify the specific groups of people MOST affected by route changes. In the case of transit, they are:
- people with disabilities
- elderly people
- low income people
- people with cognitive impairment
- people without cars
Step two, identify HOW people will be affected:
- people will be unable to get to where they want to go
- they may be forced into unsafe /uncomfortable situations (crossing unsafe streets, waiting for long periods of time in unheated shelters)
- due to frequent transfers, they may spend more time travelling, may risk missing appointments / commitments
- may affect their ability to keep a job
- may be unable to handle multiple transfers so their mobility and freedom is further curtailed
Step three, mitigate any unintended harmful consequences:
- … ?
No government or service provider should advance changes to their programs that negatively affect people, especially vulnerable people. OC Transpo is a service provider funded by tax payers of the city of Ottawa and users of transit. Whenever changes are proposed, some people may benefit, some people may not, but it is the responsibility of OC Transpo planners to identify any unintended consequences and mitigate the harm.
I see no evidence that OC Transpo made any effort to understand who was harmed by the route changes in September 2018, nor have they made any effort to repair the harm.
And that's something we should worry about.
Is it hopeless?
No! Check out what other cities are doing to develop and maintain their transportation networks:
Vancouver is a big sprawling city with serious geographic limitations. When I was growing up there, the transit system was terrible and old – do you know that Vancouver still uses electric trolley buses?
When the city launched the SkyTrain in 1985, people were so excited about it, they used to just ride around on it for fun until the city launched public campaigns to remind people that joyriders shouldn’t be taking up spots for legitimate commuters.
Vancouver is one of the last big cities that does not allow Uber or Lyft (or any other ride sharing service). Since 2006, its population has grown by 6-9% and it is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in so MANY people live a long away and commute into the city.
But in recent years, Vancouver has made alternative modes of transportation – cycling and public transit – keystone policy goals. The results have been impressive.
I’d also like to point out that Vancouver city councillors unanimously declared that climate change is an emergency: https://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/vancouver-councillors-unanimously-approve-motion-declaring-climate-emergency